Gongol.com Archives: January 2024

Brian Gongol

January 12, 2024

Computers and the Internet Artificial intelligence without genius

Instances of product names mass-generated by artificial intelligence have begun appearing on Amazon, and the odds are good that they're going to proliferate elsewhere online, too. The fact that some of the names have gone utterly without human attention -- like the end table with the model name "I'm sorry but I cannot fulfill this request" -- should be a cautionary tale to society generally. ■ The mass deployment of artificial intelligence to flood online markets with indistinguishable products, sham reviews, and junk articles is shameful enough. It's corrupt, greedy, wasteful, and distinctly unprofessional. Human expertise matters. ■ But whereas it's mainly a nuisance (albeit a large one) when sham work populates the Internet world of sales and marketing, people of goodwill ought to dread the encroachment of lazy artificial intelligence use in fields like engineering. ■ We know that AI is being used to write computer code: Google even promotes its own tools for doing it. And it's a seductive practice because code often gets re-used, can be tedious to produce, and usually requires the work of highly-skilled (and well-paid) human workers. ■ The day is undoubtedly coming soon when people like structural and civil engineering managers and individual designers are going to use it to cut corners and shave down costs (pressures that are very real when clients have limited budgets and professional staffers often bill at rates of $200 or more an hour). ■ Without conscientious human supervision, AI-generated work is certain to have some ultimately catastrophic consequences. For example: The I-35W bridge collapse in 2007 was a disaster caused by "unknown unknowns", compounded by oversights and failures to double-check work. Among other problems, some calculations were not performed because engineers thought they were "too much work". (That's exactly the kind of thinking that can drive the use of AI.) ■ Modifications had been made over time to the bridge itself making the road surface much heavier, and the structure collapsed while heavy equipment was there to perform reconstruction work. These were factors that wouldn't fit neatly into a computer model for an original design. ■ In an ideal world, we would use AI to double-check careful human design work and call attention to oversights and errors. But if it instead is used (quietly, and without fanfare) to substitute for that human design work instead, we will experience even more disasters as a result. When economic pressures are very strong (as when a technology appears to be capable of substituting for $250-an-hour professionals), it's time to pay a surplus of professional attention.

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